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Fragile Ethiopia: An insight from Amhara and Oromia regions

2024-07-02 11:40

Jan Záhořík

#ConflictAnalysis , #Amhara , #Ethiopia , #Oromia , #SocioPolitical , #PublicSentiment , #DailyLife , #EconomicImpact , #LocalMilitias , #AbiyAhmed,

Fragile Ethiopia: An insight from Amhara and Oromia regions

"The paper examines the socio-political turmoil in Amhara and Oromia regions, detailing local conflicts, public sentiment, and the impact on daily life"

Since the war in Tigray (2020-2022), Ethiopia has been on the spiral of violence and turmoil which affects daily lives of citizens especially in Amhara and Oromia regions, the two most populous parts of Ethiopia, a country of roughly 130 million people. For many years, there have been debates on the position of Ethiopia as the hegemon of the Horn of Africa, particularly during the years of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) whose main force was the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). 


In April 2018, after years of Oromo protests, Abiy Ahmed was elected Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the first time in history of the country when an Oromo politician would reach such a post. However, initial enthusiasm was replaced by frustration and disappointment caused by the war in Tigray, inflation, and generally deteriorating security situation all across the country. In this essay, we take a look into Amhara and Oromia regions and the current situation there, as of June 2024. 


In Gondar, where the epicenter of current clashes between Fano and ENDF is, there are still ongoing low-scale fights – almost every evening there are gunshots heard from around Gondar city, but always only a few. It is explained by the fact that Fano has weaponry but does not have ammunition which means that their tactics is to carefully prepare an attack on ENDF military bases or groups of soldiers with an attempt to kill as many with just a few cartridges and steal the weapons and ammunition. Fano has been joined by about 60-70% of Amhara special forces which means that many of them are well trained and know how to use a proper military tactics to attack ENDF barracks. 


ENDF uses drones from Iran and Turkey to fight against Fano and they have drone bases in Bishoftu, Semera in Afar region, and allegedly around Gondar as well. The drones are, however, not always effective because the Fano militias hide in the forests (e.g. Gondar is surrounded by hills and mountains with forests, where moving either with heavy military weaponry, or fighting the militias with drones may be difficult. Moreover, Fano is everywhere, there is no centralized structure, no “office” of Fano which would be easy to target. Many Fano members are “ordinary” citizens going to work during the week. While the Ethiopian Defense Chief said at the end of June, that Fano is getting weaker and weaker,[1] people think otherwise and consider the Fano forces strong enough to lead a long war. There are voices explaining the success of Fano by the fact that it is a military force that is being bottom-up, something which is rarely heard of.[2] 


Fano is now primarily active in Gojjam region of the Amhara state where they control several towns. There exist several organizations in Gondar, such as Amhara Fano Unity in Gondar (AFUiG); Fano for Existence, Justice and Democracy Movement (FEJDM); Amhara Fano Unity Council (AFUC), as well as in Gojjam area, which include Amhara Popular Force (APF) and Amhara Popular Front (APFr). In Shoa, one may count with One Amhara Fano in Shoa (OAFiS), Amhara Fano Free People Movement (AFFPM) and Amhara Fano Unity Council (AFUC). Each of them has been led by different prominent leaders of the Amhara nationalism.[3]


Primarily in Amhara region, the anger against Abiy Ahmed’s government is tangible and all the people one may speak with consider Abiy the worst prime minister possible. Gondar (despite being one of the largest cities in Ethiopia) is affected by constant power cuts, internet blocking, etc. During the day, there are gunmen either with or without uniforms in the city center monitoring the situation. One cannot recognize if they are members of ENDF or not. Very frequently, military trucks with soldiers are seen inside the city so that the citizens are already used to this low intensity conflict. Fano is basically relying on attacks on ENDF in which they can seize weaponry and ammunition. Rumors concerning smuggling of weapons from Sudan circulate in Gondar. 


The situation in Oromia region is becoming equally tense because the government, through coercive means, forces people to support the visions of Abiy Ahmed and dissent is not tolerated. So, in this sense it reminds former policies of TPLF which they practiced in Tigray region during their rule. The Oromia state set up its own militia that exists to make sure that the Oromo people would remain loyal to the system, as the backbone of Abiy Ahmed. Especially in the countryside, many people are strongly against Abiy but are not able to express their dissatisfaction publicly due to threats. They are actually forced to participate in demonstrations for the support of Abiy for which there is little to no alternative, so it is a similar tactics used previously by TPLF particularly in the Tigray region during their rule.[4]


At this moment, Fano and OLA do not fight each other because they have to save weaponry and ammunition for their fight against ENDF. It also seems that there might be a temporary tactical alliance between TPLF and Fano for exactly the same purposes. 


For ordinary Oromo people from Jimma it is still difficult to travel to Wellegga (Western Oromia, heavily affected by long-term heavy fighting between OLF/OLA and ENDF) because OLA does not trust anyone and even Oromo people coming there from other parts of Oromia may be accused of being agents of the government. OLA is also very active in kidnapping in order to get ransom money to sponsor their activities.[5] They usually target government officials or rich people because there is a higher chance of success. OLA is allegedly not involved in raping. Government-sponsored militias accused of raping do that because they know that rape brings shame to the families and the more girls are raped the less social cohesion there exists so at the end it will undermine people’s willingness to fight against the central government. 


In conclusion, for many ordinary Ethiopian citizens, insecurity, combined with socio-economic troubles which the majority of families has to face, this is not the best time in their lives and more and more people feel anger and desperation. Insecurity in Ethiopia’s two biggest and the most populous regions affects business and investments as well which complicates Ethiopia’s ambitions to become middle-income country by 2025, a goal very difficult to reach in current conditions. 


[1] See https://borkena.com/2024/06/27/ethiopian-defense-chief-says-ready-to-negotiate-with-fano-anywhere/

[2] Solomon Gebre Selassie (2024): The Perfect Being the Enemy of the Good: Amhara Fano’s Deliberate Pace at Forming a Unified Command Center. https://ethioreference.com/archives/35417

[3] Atrsaw Necho and Yared Debebe (2024): Understanding the Amhara Insurgency in Ethiopia‘s Amhara region. Nairobi: Rift Valley Institute, p. 3-7.

[4] Personam communication, Jimma, Addis Ababa, June 2024. 

[5] See e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/jan/23/im-scared-to-leave-addis-ababa-ethiopias-oromia-region-gripped-by-kidnapping-pandemic

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